Amazing Mom: Melinda Gates

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Melinda Gates, right, spends time with her family. Credit: Bauer-Griffin


Amazing Mom: Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which works to improve health care in developing countries and provides educational resources for Americans.

Melinda's Family: Husband: Bill Gates, married 16 years; Kids: Jennifer, 14, Rory, 11, Phoebe, 8

Melinda Lives In:
Medina, Washington

Why Melinda Is Amazing: As a teenager Melinda Gates spent weekends helping her family clean rental properties that her father managed. An engineer by trade, he had started a side business to help pay for all four children to attend college.

"That meant scrubbing floors and cleaning ovens and mowing the lawns," Gates told Fortune magazine.

Her trajectory sounds like a fairytale. Melinda went from scrubbing floors to graduating from Duke University with a BA and an MBA, getting a job with Microsoft at 22 and assisting in the development of products like Expedia. Then she met the boss, Bill Gates, fell in love and in 1994, married him on a remote Hawaiian island.

They live with their two daughters and one son in a $125 million mansion on Lake Washington that boasts an art collection, a 30-car garage, trampoline room and stocked trout stream.

Instead of leading a life of leisure and privilege, Melinda took to heart something Bill's mother, Mary, penned to her prior to her wedding: "From those to whom much is given, much is expected."

To that end, the couple established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with an endowment of $33.5 billion. Early on they decided to concentrate their efforts on problems that affect the most people and ones that have been neglected in the past. The foundation focuses on global health care problems, such as AIDS and malaria, working to eliminate poverty in some of the poorest countries on earth and promoting education and technology in schools in the United States. Their malaria-prevention project in Zambia has cut the death rate by the disease in half.

"We started this foundation with the premise that all lives are created equal," she told Vogue magazine.

She is naturally reticent and has admitted that she would rather shy away from the public spotlight. But thinking about her older daughter changed her mind.

"I really want her to have a voice, whatever she chooses to do. I need to role-model that for her," she said to Fortune. "As I thought about strong women in history, I realized that they stepped out in some way."

And for Melinda, stepping out doesn't mean slapping her name on the foundation and walking away. She is deeply involved in all areas including giving erudite speeches to scientists and doctors, touring countries where their money is being spent and overseeing all the strategies and planning of the charity.

Melinda says she is "in it for the long haul," yet admits to feeling an emotion that every working mother can relate to -- guilt.

"I want to be such a huge part of the foundation..." she told Vogue. "Yet I always have it in the back of my head that my kids are not going to be this age forever."

Melinda's Friend Warren Buffet Says:
Melinda makes Bill a better decision-maker. "He's smart as hell, obviously," said Buffet to Fortune, "but in terms of seeing the whole picture, she's smarter."

Recognition: In 2005, Time magazine named Melinda, Bill and rock star Bono their coveted Persons of the Year for their charitable works.

Fun Facts: Melinda is also pretty fit. She runs seven miles in an hour and tries to exercise five days a week. She's finished the Seattle marathon and climbed to the peak of 14,410-foot Mount Rainier.

Her kids have a fairly regular lifestyle, which includes playdates and sleepovers. However, they are not allowed to have iPods or iPhones, made by their father's major business competitor.

Melinda's Advice: "I think it's very important that we instill in our kids that it has nothing to do with their name or their situation that they're growing up in; it has to do with who they are as an individual," she told KomoNews.com.

Related: Amazing Mom: Marian Robinson

Want to see who else made the list? Click here for the rest of AOL's 2010 Amazing Moms!

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